Dutch voters snub EU-Ukraine treaty supported by Ukrainian Jews

A treaty to increase European Union-Ukraine ties was dealt a blow when 60 percent of Dutch voters in a national referendum on the deal voted nay.

The leadership of Ukraine’s Jewish community had lobbied hard in favor of the treaty.

In an apparent expression of anti-EU sentiment, 60 percent of those who voted in the referendum Wednesday came out in opposition to the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement. The treaty would remove trade barriers and promote military and scientific cooperation between the EU and Ukraine.

Ukrainian Jewish leaders had tried to publicly counter opponents’ claims the treaty would eventually bring Ukraine into the EU and thereby further burden the cash-strapped bloc.

In a Dutch-language plea for Dutch support of the treaty published in February, 19 Jewish community leaders from Ukraine cited the need to encourage Ukrainian democracy and oppose Russian expansionism, among other arguments. They also said Ukraine was essentially anti-Semitism free.

Prominent figures within the Dutch Jewish community disagreed and urged voters to consider Ukraine’s Holocaust-era record and what they described as its failure to seriously grapple with anti-Semitism today. Some 1.5 million Jews were killed on Ukrainian territory by Nazis and local collaborators during the Holocaust.

At a debate about the treaty Tuesday at an Amsterdam Jewish center, Tamarah Benima, a Reform rabbi and columnist for the NIW Dutch Jewish weekly, alleged Ukraine had not confronted its anti-Semitic past. She noted Ukrainian currency carries the portrait of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, a 17th century Cossack leader responsible for pogroms against Jews, and city streets are named after Stepan Bandera, an ally of Nazi Germany.

“This is not a country that’s ready to join the family of European nations,” she said.

But Josef Zissels, the head of the Vaad organization of Ukrainian Jewish communities, dismissed Benima’s examples as expressions of nationalism, not anti-Semitism. He argued there are almost no anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands, compared to 100-odd incidents in the Netherlands every year.

Zissels was in the Netherlands as part of a last-ditch effort by Ukrainian Jewish leaders to lobby for a yea vote. Last week, Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Ya’akov Dov Bleich visited the Netherlands for a string of meetings on the referendum.

Ronny Naftaniel, chairman of the Dutch Jewish Humanitarian Fund, said at the debate that Ukraine’s anti-Semitism problem was irrelevant to the vote. “If this were the parameter, then Greece, Hungary and chiefly Germany, our biggest friend, are also untouchable,” he said.

Speaking to JTA, Bleich highlighted geopolitical considerations in favor of a yea vote, namely the need to support Ukraine in its conflict with Russia under Vladimir Putin, which in 2014 annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

“Putin is a bully, and you have to stand up to bullies,” Bleich said.

Ukraine has failed to stand up to its own bullies, who are guilty of anti-Semitism, corruption and human trafficking, argued Nachshon Rodrigues Pereira, a Dutch-Jewish cantor and political science student who opposed the treaty and organized the Crescas debate.

“Ukraine will bring 45 million people with values that we really don’t need in the EU,” he said, noting that Transparency International last year ranked Ukraine as the world’s 45th most corrupt country.

Jewish group says E.U. ‘legitimized terror’

A European Jewish group has accused the European Union of providing “legitimization” for terrorism with its criticism of Israel.

The accusation came in an open letter by the chairmen of the Brussels-based European Jewish Parliament sent on Wednesday to the presidents of the European Council and other E.U. institutions. The letter was in response to the E.U.’s condemnation on Dec. 11 of Israeli policies toward the Palestinian Authority.

“We regret the one-sided statement which does not serve peace initiatives, but only strengthens the ambitions of terrorist organizations,” the letter by Joel Rubinfeld and Vadim Rabinovitch read. The E.U. statement “provides legitimization for terrorist acts” by “condemning the actions of the only real democracy in the Middle East.”

The letter noted Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s recent calls for Israel’s destruction.

The E.U.’s statement urged Israel not to freeze the Palestinian Authority’s funds and to cancel planned construction in the West Bank. It called on the Palestinians to “use constructively” their newly gained non-member state observer status at the United Nations.

On Dec. 11, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also harshly criticized some of his European counterparts and accused them of intentionally ignoring calls for Israel's destruction.

“In the eyes of some European foreign ministers, the destruction of Israel is a given,” he said. He then mentioned Europe's failure to address the threat against Jews prior to the Holocaust.

“The Europeans decided to pressure our side alone and ignore the terror organizations on the Palestinian side,” he added.

ADL says Europe capitulated in Palestine UN vote

The Anti-Defamation League accused European countries of “capitulating to Arab intimidation” in voting to recognize Palestine as a non-member state at the United Nations.

“They have acted without courage and capitulated to Arab intimidation and pressure,” ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement.

The Czech Republic was the only member of the European Union that on Thursday that voted against recognizing the Palestinian Authority as a non-member state observer at the U.N. General Assembly. Only eight other nations voted ‘no,’ including Israel, the U.S., Canada and Panama.

Among the nations that voted yes were Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Other E.U. nations abstained.

The ADL statement singling out Europe was separate from another statement from the group, expressing regret at the vote. A wide array of U.S. Jewish groups condemned the vote, although several praised it, including Americans for Peace Now.

Previously, the Palestine Liberation Organization had the status of non-member observer entity.

“They were intimidated at a cost, and they have lost the credibility to play a serious role in bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together,” Foxman said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday criticized the General Assembly's vote as “unfortunate and counterproductive.”

Alon Liel, a former director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the European vote “a sucker-punch” to the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Ynet, the Israeli news site.

He was among several hundred activists who celebrated the vote at a rally in Tel Aviv, the news site reported.

Thousands of flag-waving Palestinians set off fireworks and danced in the streets on Thursday to celebrate the vote, Reuters reported.

Nation & World Briefs

Reform Criticizes Iraq War

The Reform movement passed a resolution criticizing the handling of the Iraq war and seeking a partial troop withdrawal. At its biennial in Houston, The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) on Friday became the first Jewish denomination to speak out against the war. The resolution, launched at the behest of several congregations, called for more transparency and a clear exit strategy, including a partial troop withdrawal after Iraq’s parliamentary elections next month.

“This is not a just war,” Vietnam veteran Michael Rankin of Arlington, Va. said in calling for the resolution’s passage. “Was it worth the billions of dollars it cost, when the world so desperately needs food and health care for the poorest of the poor?”

Delegates had been expecting a heated, prolonged discussion prior to the vote, but less than a dozen people lined up to address the issue, and URJ officials cut off debate quickly. The measure passed overwhelmingly by a voice vote.

House Presses Saudis on Textbooks

A congressional committee has called on Saudi Arabia to reform its textbooks. Textbooks that “foster intolerance, ignorance, and anti-Semitic, anti-American, and anti-Western views” make students “prime recruiting targets of terrorists and other extremist groups,” said the resolution that the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee referred to the full House last week.

Zarqawi: Jordan Bombings Targeted Israelis

The terrorists who struck Amman’s Radisson Hotel last week were targeting Israeli intelligence officials, terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi said. In an audio recording, Zarqawi claimed the Radisson bomber hit a hall in which the Israelis were meeting but accidentally killed scores of Jordanians, Ha’aretz reported.

“Our martyred brother’s target was halls being used at the time by intelligence officers from some of the infidel crusader nations and their lackeys,” he said. “God knows we chose these hotels only after more than two months of close observation [that proved] that these hotels had become headquarters for the Israeli and American intelligence.”

Zarqawi said Jordan was deliberately hiding Israeli and American deaths. He also threatened to decapitate Jordan’s King Abdullah II. His claim about Israeli intelligence officials is widely believed to be baseless.

E.U. OKs Border Job

The European Union authorized monitors for the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Under an agreement reached this week, the European Union will send a unit of monitors to the Rafah border terminal so Palestinians can leave and enter Gaza. The Palestinian Authority hopes that a total of 50-70 monitors ultimately will be posted at Rafah. The European Union also said it would send observers to Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections in January.

Group Blasts Ukrainian University

The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on Ukraine to rescind the accreditation of a Ukrainian university that backed a call by Iran’s president to destroy Israel. The university, known as MAUP, is known for its anti-Semitic publications.

“By supporting Ahmadinejad’s threat to Israel, MAUP’s consistent Jew-baiting now culminated in an endorsement of genocide,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The international community criticized Ahmadinejad’s comments.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency


Settlement Negotiations

In February, Austria announced plans to rapidly resolve all Holocaust restitution claims against it. Vienna’s enthusiasm for settling these claims came days after the European Union (E.U.) imposed sanctions against Austria for including a far-right party in its new government.

Several American Jewish leaders rejected the about-face, charging it was a naked attempt to defuse criticism of Austria’s lurch rightward.

With the E.U. announcement this week that it has lifted sanctions against Austria, some wonder whether the wheels of restitution will, coincidentally, grind to a halt.

The president of Austria’s 6,500 Jews, for one, intends to keep Austrian feet to the fire.Ariel Muzikant was in Washington this week for the fourth round of negotiations among representatives of Jewish groups and the Austrian and U.S. governments.

Austria is notorious for its failure to face up fully to its Nazi past. But in May, months after a similar settlement by Germany, Austria agreed to pay $395 million to roughly 150,000 former slave and forced laborers.

That is pocket change compared with what negotiators for victims are pursuing now: “tens of billions of dollars,” said Muzikant, for the property stolen from Austrian Jewry, which numbered 200,000 before World War II.

Austria has reportedly countered with an offer of $150 million.

“It’s a joke,” said Muzikant, “but I’m not going to break my head over it, if the other side’s being ridiculous.”

In addition, Austria is reportedly attempting to separate the property restitution issue from compensation for slave and forced laborers and to secure “legal closure” to prevent any further claims against Austria.It seems that Austrian industry is nervously looking on, fearing it will be targeted for those firms that may also have profited from forced labor.

Neither effort will succeed, said Muzikant.

Negotiators want the two issues to remain linked so Austria cannot place one restitution deal under its belt, then drag its heels on the second.

Regarding “legal closure,” Muzikant said that no one can prevent a survivor from Budapest, London or New York from filing a claim in the future.

“It’s fair to want some sort of closure, but it would be better for Austria to really face what it did during the war, then come to the table with an overall, realistic policy,” Muzikant said.

He noted that what prods Austria is restitution momentum and public opinion.

Holocaust settlements have been made across the European continent, with virtually no perpetrator being left untouched. Moreover, opinion polls in Austria indicate growing sentiment for the issues to be resolved once and for all, especially among the younger generation.

However, it’s unclear what percentage of pro-restitution Austrians are driven by guilt or a sense of moral obligation – and how many are simply fed up with being pressed on the issue, said Muzikant.

In any event, Muzikant remains optimistic that progress will continue.

“Don’t forget,” he said, “for 55 years there wasn’t even an offer.”